Persuasive Copywriting Techniques 3: Tell a Good Story

One of the most powerful ways to win over readers is to tell success stories about your program.

Persuasive Copywriting Techniques 3:
Tell a good story.

People are persuaded to give or buy when you move their hearts. Stories appeal to emotions – and emotions drive people to act.

(In contrast, presenting cold, hard facts allows the reader justify a purchase or gift and helps prevent buyer’s or giver’s remorse. This approach, too, is a powerful persuasive writing technique, especially when partnered with storytelling.)

It’s a fact: stories outperform description

Using description: Anna was a hardworking college student when she was approached in the university library and asked to complete a short survey, for which she’d be paid $5 in cash. After completing the survey, she peeked in the pay envelope, counted out five singles, and found a note from a humanitarian organization. The description explained how the organization worked to relieve overwhelming child hunger in Africa, citing statistics and facts to bolster its case. Would Anna give to help the children impacted by drought, food shortages, and dislocation? She dropped a couple of bucks in the box at the library’s exit.

Using story: But when Sarah took the survey and opened her pay envelope, she found a story and picture of a malnourished 7-year-old Mali girl. The note asked Sarah to give her money to help the little girl have clean water to drink, a daily nourishing meal, and basic medical care. Sarah gave her entire $5 to the same humanitarian organization to help the child.

The reactions of Anna and Sarah were typical in the 2007 study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, in which students who read the story of the child donated more than twice as much ($2.38) as those who read the description of the need and how it was met ($1.14.) The phenomenon was dubbed “the identifiable victim effect."

Researchers concluded that readers are more easily persuaded to give through anecdotal stories (what Sarah received in her envelope) over descriptive copy (what Anna received in hers.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Makes you want to learn more about using stories to persuade. (Perhaps because you just read a story that shows rather than tells. And then you learned that that story was true … and backed up by a university study.)

The bottom line

When it comes to Persuasive Copywriting Techniques 3, the bottom line is this: stories persuade more effectively than description or a presentation of the facts.

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More on nonprofit storytelling

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Using anecdotes: how to get a collection system into place ...


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